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Gov. plans major changes in state government

By submitted, 03/19/18 9:12 AM

chamber banquet--gov. hutchinson


LITTLE ROCK – This week, I launched one of the most important initiatives of my administration, and one that will require much heavy lifting.

I have announced my plan to reorganize state government and to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies in state government by 50 percent.

This is the most extensive transformation of state government since 1971, when Governor Dale Bumpers cut the number of major agencies from almost 60 to 13.

In the five decades since then, we have reversed course. The number of major agencies has increased to 42. I want to reduce the number to fewer than 20. To give you some perspective, the number of cabinet-level agencies in the federal government is only 15.

When you add in the more than 200 boards and commissions that have been created, we’re talking big government. Some students at the Sam M. Walton College of Business illustrated the size of our government in a memorable way. Matt Waller, dean of the college, had asked students to draw an organizational chart of Arkansas government. The chart was too big for one white board. In fact, the organizational chart went from one side of the room to the other.

From my first day in office, even before I saw the wall-to-wall graphic of our government, I have looked for ways to make government more efficient. As a result, we have combined some agencies and saved taxpayer dollars on rent and management.

But to truly reform the state, we needed a comprehensive plan. So in December 2016, I created the position of Chief Transformation Officer and appointed Amy Fecher to the job. Then in February 2017, I created the Transformation Advisory Board, which has spent the past year looking for ways to reduce government. This board is composed of volunteers from the private sector, legislators, and those experienced in state government. There was no cost to the state.

The members of the board have done a good job. But their recommendations are just the beginning of a task that will require creativity, hard work, and a willingness to do things differently.

The work starts now, and with the board’s guidance, and ideas from legislators and any Arkansan who wants to offer an idea, we are going to redouble our efforts to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies to fewer than 20.

If I had any doubt that our bureaucracy was too big, some interns in our office laid that to rest. Members of my staff had heard complaints that the executive director of one agency wasn’t showing up for work. The director did not return phone calls to my staff. So we put a couple of interns on the case. They couldn’t even find the director when they visited the office in person. When my staff told me about this director, I had never even heard of the agency. That’s pretty good evidence of the need for reform.

And that will change. Over the next months, we will assess the needs, always remembering the human factor. We don’t plan to lay off state employees. We will reduce the payroll as employees take other opportunities or retire.

Over the next months, we will shape the best thinking into ideas for our legislators for the 2019 General Assembly. This overhaul is overdue, and it is a necessary step to responsible government. I am grateful for my partners in pursuing this.